Can a man really do any job a woman can? asks FEMAIL as an ex-policeman becomes matron at a top boarding school
By Libby Purves
So eyebrows have been raised at the newly appointed matron of a boarding house at St Edward’s School in Oxford.
Not only, gasp, is the new ‘Matey’ not a looming Hattie Jacques figure in a big starched apron — he’s actually a man!
Paul Davies, an ex-policeman, fancied a different life and politely enquired whether matrons needed to be female. Turns out they don’t.
Actually, I bet the school bit his hand off: if you want the respect of teen boys, you can’t do better than a former firearms officer and dog handler with a bravery award.
Female matrons in such schools have to work a lot harder to develop the badass authority that tells a strapping lad to wash behind his ears, eat those greens, observe lights-out, and by the way — hand over the illegal contraband you’ve stashed in the ceiling tiles, boy! ADVERTISING
Do you really think we don’t know about that dodge?
But, you may cry, what about the tender, gentle, nurturing, pastoral, healing side of the job as a mother-substitute for teenage boys away from home? Can men do that? Of course they can. In just the same way that they can be wonderful nurses and nannies, carers, nursery workers and midwives.
If a person has a mixture of kindness and practicality, understanding and gentleness and a sharp eye for detail and safety, these traditional women’s roles can of course be fulfilled by men. The only thing a man can’t be is a nun!
After all, men used to be the world’s secretaries and clerks, as well as pilots, master-mariners, engineers, soldiers, cabinet ministers and newsreaders. Then we women came along and wanted a go.
And we proved that if we had the right gifts, interests and temperaments, we could do those jobs just as well.
So why can’t it work the other way? Let’s be fair. Psychologically we’re all a bit genderfluid, aren’t we? We all know tomboy women, and men with natures as soft as thistledown. Some men won’t be any good at traditional ‘women’s’ jobs, but some women aren’t either. During my year at boarding school, our matron was as rough and mean as any SAS sergeant major.
When serving our time as toddlers, we’ve all probably cowered from a snappish kindergarten mistress, wishing she was a jolly uncle figure instead. Anyway, I spent some time trying to think of a ‘woman’s’ job that a man couldn’t do, and came up with only one: Abbess! Even then, I know a few blokes who would put in a good effort as Mother Superior.
Helena Frith Powell (pictured) has instead argued that men cannot do the same jobs that women can
By Helena Frith Powell
There is nothing wrong with the idea of former police officer Paul Davies becoming a school ‘mantron’ — he seems like an excellent and brave fellow.
But I must admit that, upon hearing about it, my immediate thought was: ‘I’m glad that in my son’s day, it was a woman.’
As a mother working overseas, I have often had to rely on matrons. When my son Leo was nine years old, I left him at a boarding school before flying back to my job in the Middle East.
It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, but it was made a little easier by the maternal presence of a capable South African matron, who told me everything would be all right.
If ‘Mates’, as she was known, had been a man, I would have had an even more anxious flight. I know it’s not something we’re supposed to say, and some people will find it shocking, but I do believe there are certain jobs that men just aren’t cut out for.
Making that argument the other way round — about a woman’s capability — is simply not an option nowadays, so you might think I’m being unfair. But I have yet to meet a man who has as deep-rooted a maternal instinct as a woman, especially when it comes to other people’s children. I’m glad in my son’s day it was a woman
It’s hardly surprising that a huge 86 per cent of teachers working in primary and nursery schools in 2018 were female. And however wonderfully warm a man’s feelings, I’m afraid there are some places I’d rather not encounter one.
On a labour ward, for example. Would you really want a male midwife telling you to ‘push harder’? He doesn’t have a female body so, understandably, would struggle to relate to what was going on, no matter how good his training.
I was happy to see the dashing (male) Dr Denjean at my bedside when my second daughter was born by Caesarean, but he would have been an irritating presence telling me to make more of an effort during the natural birth of my firstborn.
And yes, were I to become a captain of industry, my first hire would be a female assistant. Men are simply not able to multi-task and organise in the way women are.
A study in the journal BMC Psychology concludes that men are slower and less organised than women when switching between tasks. Anyone who has seen a man try to change a nappy while talking on the phone will know this is true.
As the study’s co-author, Dr Gijsbert Stoet from the University of Glasgow, sums up: ‘If women couldn’t multi-task, we wouldn’t be here.’
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi-based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor-in-chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. She is working on a thriller set in Sweden as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
In 2022 her short story The Japanese Gardener came second in the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize. One of her stories was also shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize. When she’s not writing, she works as a headhunter for the media and entertainment industry for the Sucherman Group.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019